Latest Information on Teen Drinking

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recently completed a new analysis of four years of government data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They have unfortunately uncovered some disturbing trends. The data shows that most underage youth get alcohol from home, and about a third were given it by their parents or guardians. SAMHSA also estimates that about 709,000 U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 14 currently drink alcohol. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) says that 30 percent of U.S. eighth graders drink alcohol, and 20 percent binge drink. Unfortunately, SAMHSA reports that teens who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely than those who start at age 21 and older to develop alcohol problems.

In addition to the increased likelihood of teens becoming alcoholics, there are more ramifications of underage drinking. Exposing the brain to alcohol during adolescence, which is a period of hormonal alterations and brain development, may interrupt key processes of brain development, possibly leading to mild cognitive impairment. Most of us know the long-term effects of excessive alcohol use, including liver and heart problems, but one of the major problems with underage drinking is decreased inhibitions that may lead to risk-taking behaviors. Alcohol intoxication impairs the judgment and teens who are intoxicated may engage in a number of dangerous behaviors –experimentation with other drugs, unprotected sex, crime, and drunk driving. For example, forty percent of all alcohol-related fatal car crashes involve teens. The data is fairly clear that parents should not be condoning, let alone providing, alcohol to minors.

Drinking and Driving

Despite efforts to curb drunk driving, SAMHSA recently reported that approximately 30 million Americans are driving drunk and another 10 million are driving drugged each year. Drivers aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of drunk driving, compared with those aged 26 and older (19.5 percent vs. 11.8 percent). Those aged 16 to 25 also had a higher rate of drugged driving than those aged 26 and older (11.4 percent vs. 2.8 percent). Since the largest culprits of drunk driving are under 25, parents must step up to try to prevent this risky behavior. To learn more about teens and drunk driving, read our previous blog “Drunk Driving: Studies and Prevention”.

Talking to Teens About Drinking

Experts generally advise parents to use current events on the news, movies, books or TV shows as a springboard to start a conversation about drugs or alcohol, asking their opinion on the matter. When parents talk with their children, they should ask them to share their experiences and opinions about teens they know who drink or use drugs. After listening without judgment, parents should clearly state how they feel and what they expect regarding drinking. For example, a parent might say “I realize there’s a lot of temptation out there. I also know you’re a really smart, strong person. That’s why I expect you to stay clean — no matter what your friends are doing. Agreed?” Keep in mind that kids who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use than those who don’t get that message at home.

Recognizing that talking with teens about alcohol and drinking can be difficult for parents, the American College of Emergency Physicians and MADD created a new, free handbook that guides parents through these conversations. You can download your free copy by logging onto MADD’s website: “Power of Parents, It’s Your Influence“.

Leave a Reply